Prince Edward Visit to 902 EAW
Waddington personnel from the Intelligence, Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) Detachment at 902 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) had the honour of meeting His Royal Highness (HRH) the Earl of Wessex, who is RAF Waddington’s Honorary Air Commodore, when he visited their Deployed Operating Base (DOB) on 9 – 10 March 2011.
HRH was then shown around the DOB before visiting the various Force Elements (FE) and their equipment. He was escorted to the Nimrod R1 where he was introduced to the 51 Squadron groundcrew by Flight Sergeant Gary Britnell. The searing heat gave him a real insight into their working conditions and he expressed his admiration for the work that they do. The crew of the aircraft: Flight Lieutenant Ben Ratcliffe, Squadron Ldr Steve Pearce, MAcr’s “Paddy” Adams, Steve McDonald and Mark Shirley, Sergeant Jamie Mulcahy and Flight Lieutenant Mike Evans briefed HRH on the onboard equipment and the capability of the platform. HRH was particularly interested in the crew’s thoughts on current operations, the demise of the platform and the impact this was having on the Squadron.
HRH went on to meet the 5(Army Corporation) Squadron personnel and Flight Sergeant Dave Clegg introduced the Sentinel’s groundcrew and, more importantly, the crew that would service his aircraft for his flight the following day. Indeed, a key topic of conversation was the Sentinel’s reliability.
HRH was impressed with the level of situational awareness the R1 FE provided theatre-wide (troops on the ground) as well as with the number of post flight reports produced in house and disseminated to the wider international intelligence community. HRH gained an appreciation for the level of commitment the members of the R1 FE possess as well as the enormous contribution one aircraft and one ground station provide for UK and ISAF interests. HRH was actively engaged throughout the brief, asking questions and bringing forth examples of his previous experience when visiting Theatre.
Flight Lieutenant Nicholas Barratt (EROSS Intelligence Officer) briefed HRH on the collection and dissemination of intelligence the R1 FE. In Nick’s words, “HRH came across as a very approachable and down-to-earth character, quickly making everyone feel at ease and interacting freely and easily with all personnel. His comments revealed an impressive depth and breadth of understanding about the nature of both the insurgency and the challenges facing ISAF. Unsurprisingly, he was particularly interested in the specific achievements of the UK troops involved in the operation, and appeared keenly aware of some of the obstacles they are facing on a day-to-day basis.”
On Day two, HRH was treated to an unusual 47th birthday present when he was invited to fly with 5(AC) Squadron on an operational sortie over Afghanistan. He saw first hand the capability of the Sentinel aircraft and its ground station, collectively known as Airborne Stand Off Radar (ASTOR), during a 7 hour mission which included near real time operations and pattern of life study.
After a full intelligence and mission brief HRH, his bodyguard and the crew: Flight Lieutenant Ian Lakin, Flight Lieutenant Garve Garvey, Staff Sergeant Dave Carson, Sergeant Andy Paul boarded the Sentinel. The aircraft itself had no royal upgrades, however, the paucity of chairs at the mission stations required a minor Royal modification and an old camping stool was repaired and bedecked with the ISTAR Detachment Commander’s Union Jack cushion in order to allow HRH to watch the mission as it unfolded. He saw first hand the support that the Airborne Stand Off Radar provides to troops on the ground and was briefed on the longer term strategic analysis that is helping to defeat the insurgency. As part of the post mission airborne debrief, the Earl spoke to the ground station analysts on the radio who were unaware of the additional crew member. Believing this to be an aircrew ruse, the ground station team contacted the ISTAR Detachment Commander in order to confirm HRH’s identity.Sadly, HRH had to return to the UK, however, he left with an excellent understanding of both the Nimrod and ASTOR FEs and, more importantly, the outstanding work that Waddington personnel carry out in direct support of operations on the ground in Operation HERRICK.